Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff calls signals during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) takes a snap during the first half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky throws against the Detroit Lions during the second half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) avoids a tackle byf Detroit Lions defensive end Trey Flowers (90) during the second half of an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
LOS ANGELES (AP) Even Sean McVay realizes there’s a strong argument to be made that the Chicago Bears ended the Los Angeles Rams’ two seasons of offensive brilliance with their 15-6 victory at Soldier Field last season.
McVay, Jared Goff and the Rams (5-4) get a chance to reply when the Bears (4-5) visit the Coliseum on Sunday night in a game that could wreck the loser’s realistic playoff hopes.
That loss on a chilly, biting night last December still stings for McVay and Goff, who threw a career-high four interceptions while the Rams were held without a touchdown for the first time in McVay’s tenure.
“They were a great defense, period,” McVay said. “They still are a great defense, but they did do some different things schematically that - I don’t run away from the fact that I didn’t handle that night well at all.”
Los Angeles was 11-1 and cruising through a season that would bend with a Super Bowl trip, but Vic Fangio’s defense reduced McVay’s offense to a wan shadow of its usual self. Todd Gurley produced only 28 yards rushing, Goff went 20 of 44 for 180 yards, and the Rams managed only 214 yards - less than half of their season average.
Fangio largely did it with a deceptively simple 6-1 alignment: Six defenders right at the line of scrimmage, with one linebacker just behind them looking to snuff out the run game. When Gurley couldn’t move the ball on the ground against that setup, the Rams’ play-action strategies were largely useless - and then Goff made mistakes.
“All of these teams, at some point, you hit some patches where you have to figure some things out and re-adjust and all that,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said of the Rams’ struggles in Chicago last season. “We’re going through that right now offensively.”
Other teams copied the Bears’ strategy, and New England played its version to perfection while holding the Rams to three points in the Super Bowl. But with Gurley still largely ineffective this season, opponents haven’t even needed the strategy to beat the Rams lately.
“I wouldn’t say what they did has shown up a lot,” Goff said, recalling the Bears’ setup. “It’s something that teams have tried, and we’ve beat it at times, and we haven’t at times. It’s definitely part of a scheme that people have played not only to us, but across the league. Nothing too crazy. Pretty simple. We’ll be ready if they do it again.”
Chuck Pagano runs the Bears’ defense now, and it has scarcely lost a step statistically despite Chicago’s overall struggles.
The Rams’ offense is a shadow of its former self, sitting in the middle of the pack in most statistical categories and coming off an inept performance at Pittsburgh in which it scored only three of Los Angeles’ 12 points.
The Bears’ biggest concern this time around likely should be Aaron Donald and the Rams’ defense, which has been on a roll since the week before it acquired shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey from Jacksonville.
“Really good defense,” quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said. “I think it starts up front for them. They’ve got obviously really talented players in Donald, and they do a lot of stuff up front with twists and getting pressure. Last year, they kind of zoned us out and tried to keep everything in front and take away our big plays.”
Here are more things to know about the prime-time showdown between 2018 division winners:
Allen Robinson figures he’s in for a physical confrontation and plenty of trash talk from Ramsey.
The Bears’ leading receiver and Rams’ brash star cornerback figure to be matched against each other just like old times, when they would go at it in practice as teammates in Jacksonville for two seasons. Robinson was three years into his career when the Jaguars drafted Ramsey with the No. 5 overall pick in 2016, and the rookie went at him right away.
“It’s gonna be physical, it’s gonna be competitive, it’s gonna be fun,” Robinson said. “I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
Robinson signed with Chicago last year, while Ramsey forced a trade to Los Angeles last month. But during their time together, Robinson heard plenty from him.
“I talk, he talks, so it’ll be fun,” Robinson said.
Khalil Mack will be lining up against a Rams offensive line with four of the five starters in unfamiliar positions. Los Angeles lost center Brian Allen and right tackle Rob Havenstein to injuries last week, so guard Austin Blythe moves to center and untested youngsters David Edwards, Austin Corbett and Bobby Evans likely join the starting lineup. The Rams’ line struggled against Pittsburgh even before the injuries, so McVay is scheming to help his profoundly inexperienced unit - but Mack still could be in for a feast.
WORK IN PROGRESS
The Bears got the win they needed last week against Detroit, ending a four-game skid with Trubisky throwing three TD passes to match his season high. But the defending NFC North champions still have plenty of room to improve. Though they scored on three consecutive possessions in the second and third quarters, the offense went long stretches without moving the ball.
The defense held Detroit to 98 yards rushing on 27 attempts, but the Bears lost linebacker Danny Trevathan to a left elbow injury, and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks is on injured reserve with an elbow injury, leaving Chicago without two disruptive players inside against Los Angeles.
McVay is still disappointed after leading receiver Cooper Kupp was held without a catch last week. The Steelers felt free to double-team Kupp more frequently with Brandin Cooks sidelined by a concussion, and Cooks is out again this week. Goff and McVay both believe their offense needs the ball in Kupp’s hands to reach its potential.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle) hasn't been ruled out for Weeks 16 and 17 yet. Green hasn't played yet this season, though he has reportedly looked good in practice. It would certainly be odd to see Green make his debut this late in the season for a 1-12 team with nothing to play for, but perhaps it's an audition for his upcoming free agency. At any rate, he'll be a risky fantasy play if he suits up, given how bothersome the ankle injury has been.
Detroit Lions running back Bo Scarbrough (ribs) is a game-time decision for Week 15 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 23-year-old is trending in the wrong direction, with two DNPs on Thursday and Friday after practicing in limited fashion on Wednesday. Even if healthy, Scarbrough is hard to trust against the Buccaneers' league-best run defense. Fellow backs J.D. McKissic and Ty Johnson will shoulder the load if Scarborough is ultimately unable to suit up.
New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (knee, shoulder) is optimistic about his chances of suiting up against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 15. The 33-year-old didn't practice on Wednesday but has been trending in the right direction, with two limited sessions to close out the week. Edelman has seen at least 10 targets in eight straight games, making him a must-start if healthy. Fellow receiver Mohamed Sanu (ankle) is questionable for the contest.
Denver Broncos tight end Noah Fant (hip, foot) is good to go for Week 15 against the Kansas City Chiefs. Fant is coming off his second career 100-yard game and will take on a Chiefs secondary that ranks 12th in the NFL against the pass. It is a tough matchup, but the rookie could be a decent streaming option in a road game where Denver may be playing from behind against one of the league's better offenses.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Damien Williams (rib, illness) is expected to be inactive against the Denver Broncos in Week 15. Williams got in two limited practice sessions on Wednesday and Thursday before downgrading to a DNP on Friday. His absence means the Chiefs will roll with a backfield of LeSean McCoy, Darwin Thompson and Spencer Ware. McCoy and Thompson are probably the best fantasy options, with Thompson getting a slight upgrade in PPR formats for his work in the passing game.
Oakland Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (shoulder) is good to go for Week 15 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacobs missed last week's game with his shoulder fracture but is returning at the perfect time with a good matchup on hand. Jacksonville's defense has allowed 141.1 yards per game on the ground, third-most in the league. Jacobs should be locked in lineups, despite the slight risk of re-injury. Backup Deandre Washington was a popular waiver wire pickup, though he won't see much run with Jacobs active.
Pittsburgh Steelers running back James Conner (shoulder) is expected to play against Buffalo on Sunday night. Conner has been dealing with the injury for a while now, but his return is good news for a team that will be without JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) and Vance McDonald (concussion). With the 24-year-old back in the lineup, Jaylen Samuels should remain semi-relevant catching passes out of the backfield, while Benny Snell Jr. will likely be relegated to a few carries as the No. 2. All three backs are risky options, however, against a tough Bills Defense in Week 15 as the Steelers look to remain in the playoff picture.
Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (hamstring) will play on Sunday in a crucial matchup against the Texans. Henry has been dealing with the injury over the last several weeks but has been able to play, so his status for Week 15 isn't a huge surprise. The 25-year-old has been on a roll as of late, compiling nine touchdowns over the last five games, while also rushing for at least 149 yards in three of his previous four outings. Even with the lingering effects of the ailment, he is a must-start across the board in Week 15.
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee) won't play against the Bills on Sunday night. Schuster practiced in full on Wednesday, but after aggravating the injury on Thursday, he will now miss another one as the Steelers look to remain playoff relevant. In his absence, Diontae Johnson will likely get the most catches for those in PPR formats, with James Washingtonserving as the biggest threat on deep routes in Week 15.
Chicago Bears wide receiver Taylor Gabriel (concussion) will be out again and will not play against the Packers in Week 15. Gabriel has already missed a few games, and after making not practicing during the week, it will be Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller serving as the primary receivers for Mitch Trubisky as the Bears look to remain in the playoff picture.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Adam Humphries (ankle) will not play on Sunday in a critical matchup against the Texans. This will be Humphries second-straight absence, and while he does have the potential to have the occasional effective performance, this isn't a huge fantasy loss as he is likely listed as a free agent in most leagues anyway. Nonetheless, it should be business as usual for the Titans in Week 15, with Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown, and Corey Davis getting the bulk of the opportunities on the offensive side of the ball.
Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (ankle) will not play against New England in Week 15. Green has yet to play this season after sustaining an ankle injury during training camp, and while the veteran hopes to suit up at some point over the final two games, it is also realistic to assume that he may not play at all in 2019. With Auden Tate (knee) recently landing on injured reserve, look for Tyler Boyd and John Ross to serve as the primary wideouts for Andy Dalton on Sunday against a tough Patriots Defense.
Carolina Panthers tight end Greg Olsen (concussion) will not play against the Seahawks. Olsen did practice, albeit in a limited fashion, during the week, but is still not ready to make his return. With Carolina having already been eliminated from playoff contention, it is possible that the 36-year-old may not return this season, making Ian Thomas, who caught five of his 10 targets for 57 yards and a score against the Falcons in Week 14, a suitable streaming option on Sunday.
New York Giants tight end Evan Engram (foot) will not play against the Dolphins. Engram was able to practice in a limited capacity during the week, but with the team having virtually nothing to play for, it is realistic to assume that he may not return this year. With the team also down No. 2 Rhett Ellison (concussion), rookie Kaden Smith, who had two catches (five targets) for nine yards against the Eagles in Week 14, should draw the start. For fantasy managers in deeper formats, Smith does have streaming potential in Week 15, but only for those willing to take a chance.
New York Giants quarterback Daniel Jones (ankle) will not play against Miami in Week 15. Jones was able to practice in a limited fashion during the week, but the team will take it slow as he works his way back from the high ankle sprain that he suffered during the matchup against the Packers a few weeks back. In his place, Eli Manning, who threw two touchdowns, while completing 50 percent of his passes during the overtime loss to the Eagles, will get the start against the Dolphins, with the potential for a solid outing against one of the worst defensive units in the league being a realistic possibility.
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (back) will sit out once again and will not play on Sunday against Tampa Bay. Stafford is progressing, but still doesn't feel well enough to play, with the potential for a return this season unlikely, albeit still possible. Nonetheless, David Blough, who has thrown three touchdowns and three picks this season, will get another start against a weak Buccaneers Defense. For those in need of a quarterback in Week 15, the rookie does have upside, but also an equally low downside.
Seattle Seahawks tight end Jacob Hollister has been a revelation this season, but he's come back to Earth recently. He'll be facing another uphill battle this weekend when Seattle visits Carolina, one of the stingiest defenses in the game versus opposing tight ends. Hollister has been held without a TD for three straight weeks, and he hasn't cracked 50 yards receiving during the stretch either. Meanwhile, the Panthers have allowed the third-fewest fantasy points to opposing tight ends this season, and they haven't allowed a tight end touchdown in nearly a month. Hollister is still a talented receiver, but other teams have caught on to some of his moves and he'll be in for another challenge in Week 15.
Seattle Seahawks kicker Jason Myers has cranked it up recently, and he'll look to continue his stellar ways in the cool, crisp air of Charlotte on Sunday. Myers hasn't missed a field goal in over a month, he's been better on the road than in his wet and windy home stadium, and he'll be facing a Carolina team that does an excellent job of locking down opposing offenses only after they've gotten in field goal range. Carolina has allowed the second-most fantasy points to opposing kickers this year, and it should be a perfect day for booting the ball on Sunday. If there was ever a day to roll the dice on Myers, this is probably going to be the day.
Seattle Seahawks running back Chris Carson is set to face a Carolina Panthers Defense that has been plagued by the run all year. Carolina is the most generous run defense in the game for opposing running backs, and Carson will now shoulder nearly the entire load since Rashaad Penny has been lost for the season with a torn ACL. With Seattle's defense being beat up and their wide receivers still recovering from a flu epidemic that spread through the locker room, it's a perfect situation for Carson. Owners should be confident starting him, and he could be looking at a huge week.
Seattle Seahawks wide receiver D.K. Metcalf stepped into the primary role quite well while Tyler Lockett was banged up and ill, and he'll look to continue that growth this weekend as he faces a Carolina squad that has allowed the third-most yards to opposing wide receivers this year. The Panthers have proven quite adept at limiting touchdowns, but their bendy secondary has allowed some big weeks on the outside. Expect Metcalf to push the field and look for the home run ball, and his improved catching should keep him on the scoreboard even if he can't land the big one.